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TO MR. DRYDEN.
How long, great poet! shall thy sacred lays
Prevailing warmth has still thy mind possessid,
Thy copy casts a fairer light on all,
Now Ovid boasts the' advantage of thy song,
woods. 0! may’st thou still the noble task prolong, Nor age nor sickness interrupt thy song ! Then may we, wondering, read how human limbs Have water'd kingdoms and dissolved in streams; Of those rich fruits that on the fertile mould Turn'd yellow by degrees, and ripen'd into gold, How some in feathers, or a ragged hide, Have lived a second life, and different natures tried. Then will thy Ovid, thus transform’d, reveal A nobler change than he himself can tell. Magd. College, Oxon.
June 2, 1693.
AN ACCOUNT OF THE GREATEST
TO MR. HENRY SACHEVERELL'.
April 3, 1694. SINCE, dearest Harry! you will needs request A short account of all the Muse possess'd, That, down from Chaucer's days to Dryden's times, Have spent their noble rage in British rhymes,
1 Not the notorious Dr. Sacheverell, as has been supposed; but a gentleman who died young.
Without more preface, writ in formal length,
Long had our dull forefathers slept supine,
has rusted what the poet writ,
Old Spenser next, warm'd with poetic rage, In ancient tales amused a barbarous age; An age that, yet uncultivate and rude, Where'er the poet's fancy led, pursued Through pathless fields and unfrequented floods, To dens of dragons and enchanted woods. But now the mystic tale that pleased of yore Can charm an understanding age no more; The long-spun allegories fulsome grow, While the dull moral lies too plain below. We view, well-pleased, at distance all the sights Of arms and palfries, battles, fields, and fights, And damsels in distress, and courteous knights ; But when we look too near the shades decay, And all the pleasing landscape fades away.
Great Cowley then (a mighty genius!) wrote, O'er-run with wit, and lavish of his thought: His turns too closely on the reader press; He more had pleased us had he pleased us less : One glittering thought no sooner strikes our eyes With silent wonder, but new wonders rise; As in the Milky-way a shining white O’erflows the heavens with one continued light,
That not a single star can show his rays,
[lays Bless'd man! whose spotless life and charming Employ'd the tuneful prelate in thy praise ; Bless'd man! who now shall be for ever known In Sprat's successful labours and thy own.
But Milton next, with high and haughty stalks, Unfetter'd in majestic numbers, walks: No vulgar hero can his Muse engage, Nor earth's wide scene confine his hallow'd rage, See! see! he upward springs, and, towering high, Spurns the dull province of mortality; Shakes Heaven's eternal throne with dire alarms, And sets the Almighty thunderer in arms ! Whate’er his pen describes, I more than see, Whilst every verse, array'd in majesty, Bold and sublime, my whole attention draws, And seems above the critic's nicer laws. How are you struck with terror and delight, When angel with archangel copes in fight! When great Messiah's outspread banner shines, How does the chariot rattle in his lines ! What sound of brazen wheels, what thunder, scare And stun the reader with the din of war!
With fear my spirits and my blood retire,
But now, my Muse, a softer strain rehearse,
line with art, and smooth thy verse; The courtly Waller next commands thy lays: Muse! tune thy verse with art to Waller's praise. While tender airs and lovely dames inspire Soft melting thoughts, and propagate desi So long shall Waller's strains our passion move, And Sacharissa's beauty kindle love. Thy verse, harmonious bard! and flattering song, Can make the vanquish'd great, the coward strong; Thy verse can show even Cromwell's innocence, And compliment the storm that bore him hence! Oh, had thy Muse not come an age too soon, But seen great Nassau on the British throne, How had his triumphs glitter'd in thy page, And warm’d thee to a more exalted rage! What scenes of death and horror had we view'd, And how had Boyne's wide current reek’din blood! Or if Maria's 2 charms thou wouldst rehearse In smoother numbers and a softer verse,